Legend has it that the idea for Coast Mountain Academy started during a conversation between two of our founding board members, over a fine bottle of red wine, and that after finishing the bottle they went on to sign their names to it in an unbreakable vow to make their dream a reality. 2 years later, the school opened its doors for the first time with 15 students and a vision of what school could look like. And now, in our 10th year of operation, we’ve taken this founding educational vision and thoroughly field-tested it against the realities of running an independent school in the 21st century, the changing demographics of the Sea to Sky Corridor, public-sector teacher strikes, viral pandemics, and all the rest of the curveballs that come when working with youth.
Today, it’s a safe bet to send your child to CMA. Through a strong institutional desire to constantly improve we’ve expanded our academic and extracurricular offerings and refined our programs in a manner that has led to some noteworthy statistics, namely our 100% graduation rate and 90+% record of students receiving admission to their top-choice university. But in those first years, students and families had little else to believe in but the very ethos of the school. With no defined road map laid out before them, these students were true pioneers. The flavour of the week was E-words: Engagement, Experiential, and Enrichment. Our programming was geared towards these concepts and we were taking progressive educational ideas and putting them in action. At CMA, there was a sense that you could. Unlike other schools that staff had worked at, CMA had a grassroots desire to get students outside, blend disciplines in the pursuit of authentic experience, and create wonder that would last from womb to tomb. And the best part was, there were no pesky traditions standing in our way, preventing us from teaching the way that we had always wanted to.
Having a desire to teach outside the 4 walls of the classroom is one thing, but having a location completely suited to it cannot go unacknowledged. The Quest University campus has been an incredible home to CMA, providing our students and staff with endless opportunities for both on and off trail adventures, and a venue with which to explore local ecology, timeless geology, inspiring poetry, residential development, and of course, the niche that we as humans play in all of this, with only a short walk needed for full immersion in any of these domains. We also have had and continue to have the privilege of using the phenomenal Recplex and Cafeteria spaces, which greatly enhances our student’s day-to-day experience. But beyond the tall timbers, curious woodland creatures, torrential creeks, expansive vistas, and enticing turf fields that surround us there is something much harder to describe, and much more meaningful, about being where we are. You see, it takes a good many years in your life to even begin realizing the effect that an environment has had on you. Here, the seasons can be measured by the colour of the maple leaves and where the snow line is in the Tantalus Range. Here, there are distinct smells that distinguish the onset of winter from the onset of spring. Here, contemplating what this land, what all land, could have looked like before the rise of humanity is a totally normal thing to do as you stare over the verdant Squamish Valley, watching the glacial green river find its way to the ocean.
As we began graduating cohorts of students something unexpected occurred: our Alumni started coming back, with great regularity. Typically on or around Thanksgiving – the first break in the university year – we’d have a smattering of Alumni dropping-in on campus, saying hello to the teachers that had made such a big impact on their lives. And if we didn’t see them at Thanksgiving, then the Winter Holiday provided an excellent opportunity for Alumni to come and share some war stories from their first final exam season at University. It is this occurrence that I’m more proud of than any other; through all the ups and downs of the middle and high school years, through all the rainy hikes and forest walks, we’re creating an extremely well-bonded community here at CMA where our students will always feel at home. Give it another 10 years, and I’ll bet that CMA’s alumni will have started contributing in significant ways in the Sea to Sky Corridor and beyond.
These days, CMA is feeling a lot bigger than it used to, both in terms of population, number of classrooms, extracurricular opportunities, and school systems. In the spring of 2021, CMA’s board of directors made the decision to lease a wing of the academic building at Quest University to house our Senior School, which paved the way for “Double Cohorts” at the Middle School. This strategic and structural change has brought a significant wave of growth to our school, and we are making year-after-year progress towards our long-term student population goal of 240. Beyond the numbers, though, this growth is reflected in increased academic and extracurricular program options, increased social opportunity, and more teachers to build that special relationship with and learn from. Our idea with 240 is to have a school that is large enough to offer a diverse selection of peers, teams, and elective courses, but small enough to continue to offer our immersive, experiential programming and retain the most important aspect of what we do, which is build relationships that will last a lifetime. And while this is the plan moving forward, it’s important to acknowledge that the goal of any school should be to build an institution full of synergy. That is, a school experience that is greater than the sum of its parts. A school with a strong and palpable culture that can guide it through future pandemics, a changing climate, and any other tricks that the earth has up its sleeve. If we do our jobs right, this institution will stand for centuries, for generations, for longer than any single lifetime of anybody involved in it.
It is this mindset, learned from 10 years of growth, that I carry with me as I captain the ship. For it’s all too easy to sink into the mental trap of over-valuing the pieces of a school that can be written on paper: square footage, course lists, etc., instead of focusing on the things that make any institution special: the relationships that exist within its members, and the wonder that it creates.
Submitted by Mr. Logan, Head of School